|AREAS OF INTEREST: MIND/BODY, RELAXATION, PRAYER, IMAGERY, PLACEBOS, MEDITATION, WORRY, SELF-TALK
by: Tom Seabourne Ph. D
Many of us visit our doctor for a pill or a shot because we believe it will cure us. And most of the time it does. Did the medicine work because our bodies needed it? Or was the medication effective because we believed in it? Maybe we do not require all of the pills and potions most of us demand. But for some, these medicines provide a psychological spark to speed healing.
Worry can trigger the fight or flight response. This emergency reaction signals your brain to send help for a perceived threat. Although there are no lions to defend against, your mind/body takes a beating. In worriers, this cycle recurs daily, indeed hourly. Some worry when they feel ill. Others worry they might become ill. My mother was a worrier. She feared we could catch a cold from frigid weather. When we bundled up, Mom suspected we would surely overheat. Rarely were my siblings or I sick.
But her constant fretting wreaked havoc on her physiology. Worriers prefer security. Sudden change or risk is threatening. A worrier would rather be middle-of-the-road than face uncertainty. Most seek stability. Others are perfectionists. They demand everything to be right and correct. Worriers sometimes overgeneralize. They assume the worst. The thought of a previous negative experience is enough to provoke the actual physiology as if it were happening again. “I was worried all night, I’ll probably worry tonight too.”
When you feel worried stop and ask yourself why. Listen to what you are telling yourself. Do you ask questions such as “What if I get a flat?” “What if” I’m late? More often than not you are feeding yourself irrational thoughts. Mind/body medicine emphasizes the importance of what you think, and how you feel about what you think. Your mind busily transforms your thoughts into actions and reactions. Just as you would protect your innocent child from the world, defend against the thoughts you allow yourself to grasp.
The quick-fix for chronic anxiety and worry are antidepressants. Antidepressants are a worrier’s best friend. Some realize life changing benefits from these prescribed sedatives. Others combine drug therapy and psychological coping strategies. And still others employ drug-free alternatives such as meditation. Meditation reduces stress. Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson demystified meditation in the 1970’s by Westernizing it.
Rather than spend hours reciting a mantra, Benson taught that 20 minutes of quiet contemplation in a relaxed setting decreased anxiety. He labeled his method of self- reflection the “Relaxation Response.” You do this while sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. Each time you exhale say the word “relax” to yourself. If other thoughts disturb you, gently remind yourself to “relax.” The relaxation response “disconnects” everyday worries, pacifying bodies and minds.
Recently Benson’s research demonstrated that religious faith worked even better than meditation to reduce anxiety. Belief in God, combined with prayer, quieted worries and fears significantly more than meditation alone. One reason the “faith factor” proved superior to the relaxation response was that people enjoyed their prayer time. They looked forward to it and were likely to adhere to a schedule. Many prayed after punching the snooze button on their alarms. Others turned down their radios and communed with God to and from work. The prayerful were more relaxed than meditators because they detached themselves from unhealthy logic. They placed themselves in the hands of their Creator.
Benson suggests not to use prayer and meditation to avoid aging, illness, death, or in your case, worry. Rather he recommends not to analyze; simply appreciate prayer. Sometimes you forget to pray when you are worried. Your prayers become bottled up by negativity. And that is when you need prayer the most. Prayer helps to regain your center. Whether you listen to your heart, sleep on it, or go inside yourself, healthy introspection and prayer are their own rewards. Prayer may be introspective or you can witness to the world.
Some New Age folks profess that all illness is from negative thoughts, and all disease is curable. These assumptions may lead to debilitating guilt for a chronic worrier. Although you may practice positive thought control regularly, no matter how proficient you become, you cannot be anxiety free. No one is invulnerable to stress.
Research the reason for your anxiety. Go to the library and read up. Amaze yourself at how knowledgeable you can become. Let your doctor help when he can. Your physician can determine if you require intervention. Learning about your body will help you and your doctor find a solution. Some disorders can be reversed when patients make changes in diet, exercise, and stress management. Eat correctly, sleep well, and exercise.
Recall how powerful you felt when hoisted your PowerBlocks into an overhead press for the first time. Or how your body tingled when you received your first “A” on an exam. Remember your greatest triumphs. Revel in your victories. Program yourself with positive thoughts. Recognize all of the blessings in your life. And thank God for them. You provide the spiritual input. According to Benson’s research, faith in God is good for your health.